braves

Standing in the concourse of the 300 level, it seems like the fans are right on top of the action. That appears to be the case no matter where you are in the Atlanta Braves new home, SunTrust Park.

My father wasn’t particularly interested in going to the baseball game.

I wasn’t either.

We both had played baseball for a couple of years when we were in grade school and both had abandoned it for basketball, a sport which fit our height, love of the speed of the game and competitive nature better. We both played high school basketball and, during my early teen years when a conversation between us was rare as Haley’s Comet, we found a commonality in the sport. The gleaming golden courts were our house of worship. The squeak of shoes and the sound of a ball bouncing were our incantations. A game was a time where we could both watch the same thing, harbor the same passion and talk to each other about the same truths. We felt very similar with UGA football, but never with soccer, pro football or baseball.

So, when my late Uncle Mike invited my dad, me and my brother Jonathan to attend an Atlanta Braves game a decade ago, well, we weren’t that interested in the game, but we were interested in spending time with Mike. At that point in his life, Mike had endured beyond his share of tragedy and become an extremely solitary man and we all jumped at an opportunity to spend time with him. Driving down to the game, my dad was still skeptical about going to a game and I recall telling him, “Hey, Dad, I don’t even like baseball, but a spring evening at Turner Field is a beautiful sight and a relaxing way to spend the evening.”

The four of us met down there and wound our way to our seats. We passed the vendors and I saw a familiar face as Braves announcer Joe Simpson conducted a remote broadcast. I had interviewed him for our third issue of Cobb Life and whether he recognized me or not, he was kind enough to nod back. Mike led us to what he called, “the best seats in the stadium.” It was a row of four located about eight rows behind home plate and a gift from his company. I can’t recall who the Braves were playing that afternoon or if they won or lost. But, I do recall sipping on a Coke, my dad on one side, my brother on the other. I recall leaning over every now and then hoping to steal snatches of conversation between my uncle and my dad. And I recall a wonderful evening in downtown Atlanta in late spring.

To me, that story summarizes what a good baseball game is all about. Oh yes, it can be exciting and enthralling, but it also a sport that lends itself to a more relaxing atmosphere, where the emphasis is as much on the experience as the scoreboard. I attended maybe a half dozen games at Turner Field and I can recall most of them. I watched Sammy Sosa’s massive frame rise from the dugout when the Braves played the Cubs, twice attended the UGA-Tech series sponsored by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta — one of my favorite Atlanta sporting events — with my nephew, brother-in-law and friend Allen, and, yes, enjoyed that April game over 10 years ago with Uncle Mike.

I don’t knock the box score geeks or the over-thinkers of baseball. And I don’t knock those who put down other sports, calling baseball a “true gentleman’s sport.” In my 40s, I have little time to devote to sports debates and have given in to the true nature of one who is too creaky to play: Relaxation, escapism, enjoyment.

A baseball game is a prime time for these activities. You can order a Coke and not worry about spilling it by jumping up and down constantly. You can relax. Watch the kids. People watch. Eat an All-American hot dog. Sure, you won’t get the intensity of a UGA-Auburn football game or a UNC-Georgia Tech basketball game, but you don’t expect it either.

Now, SunTrust Park and the Braves are here and the season is upon us. I can’t tell you the RBI count of every player, the batting order or who can pitch the best, but I can tell you I’m looking forward to another afternoon watching the Braves, sipping a Coke and making new memories in a new park.

Have a great season. Go Braves.

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